"The Golden Voyage" by Malcolm Archibald is the author's third outing for Detective Sergeant James Mendick. We first met Mendick in "The Darkest Walk" as he worked undercover within the Chartist Movement in Manchester in 1847/8, and then again in "A Burden Shared: The Dundee Murders", set in 1849 in, as the title makes clear, Dundee. We concluded our review of "A Burden Shared " with the words "we... feel the setting of Dundee suits Mendick perfectly. Let's hope he's back there soon..." Malcolm Archibald had other ideas, and this time we find Detective Sergeant Mendick being ordered to find and recover the well-connected Duke of Mathon's stolen steam yacht Dorothea. The setting could scarcely be further removed from Dundee, ranging from the Isle of Wight to Gibraltar and then to the South Atlantic. Not to worry: the result is another beautifully crafted book that draws the reader into the intriguing mystery that lies at its heart, and keeps them turning the page. There are some lovely twists and turns en route to an ending that is itself nicely unexpected.
As you'd expect from Malcolm Archibald, the world Mendick encounters is utterly convincing, and the characters are wonderfully drawn. The charismatic, yet utterly ruthless, ship's captain, obsessed with Greek mythology and capable of cold blooded murder with very little provocation, is a memorable character; and the ship's fiddle-playing girl, well able to look after herself in an utterly masculine world, is another. In terms of setting, you get the feeling the author went to great pains to find out what Gibraltar was actually like in the middle of the 19th Century, and life on board a merchant ship at the time is portrayed in a way that (almost) leaves the reader tasting salt on their lips. Mendick himself has moved on little from tragic past events in his personal life, and it is hard for the reader not to hope against hope that he takes the opportunity offered to him of a happier life on a remote South Atlantic island some three quarters of the way through the book. While knowing, of course, that there's still a quarter of a book to go and a mystery to solve. Not to mention the prospect of further books in the series to consider, none of which would be possible if Mendick opted for a simpler life and dropped out of the Victorian rat-race.
It is difficult not to draw parallels between the author's style and that of John Buchan. This has much to do with the way the reader is engaged by the sheer pace of the unfolding action and the desire to see the central mystery resolved, and while Richard Hannay's world was set over half a century after James Mendick's, there are noticeable echoes between them. This is a book we'd wholeheartedly recommend to anyone looking for a thoroughly enjoyable read.